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New US Administration Offers Hope for Peace in Yemen
Tribesmen loyal to the Houthis raise their guns as they chant slogans during an armed tribal gathering on July 8, 2020 on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen. (Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)

New US Administration Offers Hope for Peace in Yemen

The Media Line met with citizens on both sides of the Yemen civil war, which has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis

While many of the followers of the Islamist Ansar Allah movement, known as the Houthis, believe that the United States is key to the continuing war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen due to its military and logistical support for Saudi Arabia, others believe that the US is an essential partner in restoring the lost legitimacy of the Houthis and in the peace process in Yemen.

The Media Line met with dozens of Yemeni citizens on both sides of the civil war in Yemen, those who support Ansar Allah and those in favor the internationally recognized government of Yemen (IRG), to measure the extent of the expectations associated with the new Biden administration on the peace process in Yemen. More than half of those interviewed said they expect that President Joe Biden’s cabinet will have a large role in ending the conflict in Yemen, while the others thought that Biden’s government would not differ much from its predecessor and that all statements in support of peace in Yemen are nothing but a new way to advance private interests in the region.

Yemen has been mired in civil war since 2015, which Saudi Arabia is fighting alongside the IRG, with the support of the US and the international community, against the Houthis, who control the capital, Sanaa, and the north of Yemen. The parties to the conflict in Yemen have signed more than one document and agreement providing for a political, humanitarian and military solution in Yemen, but so far these agreements have only been partially implemented.

A peace that saves face

The Media Line met with journalist Samah Lotf, who thinks that Yemenis are looking for any proposed solutions that can get them out of the scourge of war that has been raging for the past seven years.

“Many politicians, journalists and the elites of society agree that the American political transition has an important role in ending the war in Yemen,” she said.

Biden’s campaign sent out positive signals that his administration would involve itself in ending the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, she said, and “… the speeches and actions that followed the American elections on arms exports and stopping logistical support for Saudi Arabia are all indications that peace is closer in Yemen in light of the actions and promises of the Biden cabinet.”

According to Samah, many observers, including the parties to the conflict, say that this is an opportunity to end the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

“Many expect the Biden cabinet to take serious actions to end the conflict by putting pressure on the Ansar Allah group and the Saudi-led Arab coalition, and this is what we began to notice through the newly appointed US special envoy’s communications with parties from the IRG and the Ansar Allah group,” said Samah. “The parties want to end the war in a way that saves face,” she added.

The Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies (SCSS), an independent think-tank that focuses on Yemen, said in a statement that the new US administration pledged during the election campaign to stop the United States’ support for the Saudi war efforts, but this step, according to the SCSS, “will not be sufficient to bring peace to Yemen if it is not accompanied by a diplomatic quantum leap.” The statement added that: “Since Saudi Arabia did not find a way out of the war that saves face, it needs diplomatic support to get out of the quagmire in which it has plunged itself.” The SCSS also believes that the new US administration might adopt a new approach that would achieve “sustainable peace in Yemen,” as well as the possibility that Biden, who served as vice president in the Obama administration, will recycle positions and “repackage US policy priorities under the guise of a new beginning.”

Decisions and actions, clear indicators of peace

“Everyone was waiting for the American political transition process and how it could bring about changes in the Yemeni conflict,” Saddam Al-Haribi, a political activist and journalist close to the IRG, told The Media Line.

“Joe Biden’s administration has stated from the beginning that the Yemeni file will be among his [Biden’s] priorities and that he will work hard to achieve peace in Yemen,” he said.

Haribi argues that months have passed and no change has occurred, except for the appointment of a special US envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, in addition to the intensification of attacks on the Yemeni city of Marib, which is home to more than three million Yemeni IDPs, or internally displaced people. “Despite all that, we are still waiting for the American peace plan that Biden talked about repeatedly. And we are still confident that there is a coming peace that will prevail on the country,” he said.

Political activist Bashir Gili believes that, under the previous US administration, Washington provided support to the Saudi-led Arab coalition during its war on Yemen by passing many UN Security Council resolutions in its favor, in addition to providing arms deals and information support. The administration of former President Donald Trump provided an outlet for Saudi Arabia through several decisions, he says, the latest of which was to designate the Ansar Allah group as a terrorist organization.

Gili says that the new US administration reviewed many of the previous administration’s decisions regarding the war in Yemen, leading to backing off of arms deals with the Saudis, and a halt to providing information to the coalition, in addition to canceling the US State Department’s decision to designate the Ansar Allah group as a terrorist organization. “The movements of the American envoy in the region and the extensive meetings with leaders from the parties to the conflict, are clear indications that peace is closer,” he said.

Everyone is ready for peace

Faisal Al-Fadl, who enjoys a close relationship with the Houthis, told The Media Line that the Ansar Allah group has become more agreeable to the peace process at this stage than it used to be. With the actions taken by the US special envoy, in addition to the promises of Biden’s cabinet, Ansar Allah is ready to engage in a political dialogue that guarantees peace and an end to the conflict, he says.

“The United States of America is a partner in the war, and this fact is still fixed in the minds of many of the Ansar Allah’s followers unless proven otherwise by the new cabinet, but good faith [from Ansar Allah] exists,” Fadl said. He describes the American political transition and international actions as an “opportunity” for all parties to prove their goodwill in ridding the Yemeni people of the ongoing conflict and the crisis that has befallen it.

“It is an opportunity for everyone here in Yemen and the international parties supporting the war and the United States of America to be fair and to stand on the side of the citizens and humanity, and anything below that is considered political ploys,” he added.

“I believe that the Biden government seeks to end the conflict in the region and sees in its support for the conflict in Yemen, a war marred by a set of legal and moral questions, a crisis for the American community,” Fadl concluded.

 

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